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Byrd, at 5-1, our reluctant betting choice

Sep 16, 2003 4:38 AM

No line was up, and it doesn’t matter. The chalk won’t be worth the price and I personally can’t bet the dog.

I like Chris Byrd too much to ever bet against him, even when the price is right, which it surely would be for his Sept. 20 fight with Fres Oquendo. The only odds I saw were in a boxing publication that uses the knowledgeable Art Manteris of Station Casinos, who called Byrd a 5-1 favorite.

That’s because Byrd has finally achieved a certain grudgingly acceptance as a fine boxer. The books are smart enough to realize Byrd is in the heavyweight elite and that Oquendo is not.

That means the odds would be tilted toward Byrd. But this matchup is not good for the southpaw stylist who owns the International Boxing Federation heavyweight title, or at least, that’s the one I think he has. It’s tough keeping score.

Oquendo was taught well by Felix Trinidad Sr., but Tito’s father could not teach chin. That’s Oquendo’s weakness. Well, not exactly chin. Oquendo’s weakness is in the temple and he is one of the few heavyweights that the smallish Byrd can reach high up.

The Puerto Rican from Chicago was beating David Tua every which way, but going into the fight, and even as it was unravelling, you just knew eventually Tua would land one punch and it would be over, which it was in the ninth.

Against Byrd, it was obvious that Tua would never land that punch.

But Byrd doesn’t have that kind of punch. Oquendo is a good enough boxer, and aggressive enough, to pester Byrd. And if I have called Byrd the bravest guy in boxing, going into the ring against people like the Klitschko brothers, Ike Ibeabuchi and Tua, knowing he can’t hurt them, then Oquendo must be the second.

He fought Clifford Etienne when the Black Rhino was undefeated and turned him into a yo-yo. He was sitting pretty in the ratings, assured of a title shot against someone, when he took the Tua fight. Some people thought it was dumb. I thought it was brave, which is what we want from our fighters.

I have a lot of respect for Oquendo. I think he would have beaten John Ruiz in an all-Puerto Rican "title" bout. I think he beats a lot of contenders out there and bothers the ones who beat him.

At 5-1, he has value.

But let’s be serious. I don’t see him winning. He doesn’t hit hard enough to hurt a man who was able to survive the Klitschkos, taking many shots. Ibeabuchi is the only one to stop him when Byrd got nailed. Yet he got up before ten.

In fact, and here’s the bet if you could ever find it, it wouldn’t shock me to see the light-hitting Byrd stop Oquendo. John Hornewer, Byrd’s attorney, said he thought Chris wanted "to make a statement" in this fight.

Lennox Lewis has said it would be a boring fight if he faced Byrd. That’s the knock Byrd always hears. Steve Lott, once one of Mike Tyson’s advisers and a worshipper at the Cus D’Amato temple, said "Chris Byrd makes Pernell Whitaker look like Henry Armstrong."

Steve Lott knows diddly about boxing. It’s very easy to be brave when you have Mike Tyson’s punching power, and Tyson was hardly the bravest fighter I ever saw.

Emanuel Steward also berates Byrd’s style and Emanuel Steward knows plenty about boxing. He doesn’t want his man, Lewis, to ever face the difficulty of trying to find Byrd in a ring, so the trainer badmouths Chris.

Roy Jones Jr. wouldn’t fight Byrd, either, and Roy Jones Jr. knows boxing. I would make him a favorite over Byrd. And this should tell you all you need to know about why he’s one of my all-time favorites. He said if he ever had the chance to fight Roy, he’d come down to 193 pounds or whatever Jones weighed so he wouldn’t have any edges.

Hornewer said he can’t imagine anyone Byrd’s size beating him. Jones is smaller, of course. The former middleweight, who could still make cruiserweight if he wanted, is settling down on his punches more and more. Oquendo is not going to run. He’ll be right there.

Against a journeyman southpaw, Dale Crowe, Oquendo tasted canvas in the second round. He was also knocked down by the light-heavyweight/cruiserweight Ramon Garbey.

Maybe this will be Byrd’s first real knockout of a class heavyweight, unlike, for instance, making Vitali Klitschko quit.

And maybe you could get decent odds on Byrd by knockout. But Byrd straight up just isn’t worth it, not laying 5-1.

That’s how much respect I have for Oquendo and his heart. Now at 7-2, that is definitely another story.